Aug. 2, 2013
As most readers are surely aware, Pope Francis has issued already his first papal encyclical letter to the whole Church. It is entitled Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith). Our Holy Father openly acknowledges in the first paragraphs that the work on the encyclical was largely that of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis humbly adds that he took up the work of Pope Benedict’s almost completed draft of the letter and “added a few contributions of [his] own.” But make no mistake; this encyclical is that of Pope Francis.

The encyclical is meant to coincide with the Year of Faith that we are currently celebrating to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the calling of the Second Vatican Council. It also completes, in a certain sense, Pope Benedict’s trilogy of encyclicals on the theological virtues of faith, hope and love (cf. Spe Salvi, On Christian Hope and Caritas in Veritate, Charity in Truth). The current encyclical is a beautiful exposition and reflection on the importance and need for a renewal of faith in our own time. I heartily encourage all to read it!

One theme of Lumen Fidei especially struck a chord with me, and is closely related to my previous column in the Catholic Sentinel on the theme of “communion” in the Church. It has to do with the necessity of a unity and integrity of faith among us in the Church (cf. Lumen Fidei, ## 47-49). Allow me to quote extensively from Pope Francis’ encyclical:

“The unity of the Church in time and space is linked to the unity of the faith: ‘there is one body and one Spirit…one faith’ (Eph 4:4-5). These days…we find it hard to conceive of a unity in one truth. We tend to think that a unity of this sort is incompatible with freedom of thought and personal autonomy…Yet…Genuine love, after the fashion of God’s love, ultimately requires truth, and the shared contemplation of the truth which is Jesus Christ enables love to become deep and enduring. This is also the great joy of faith: a unity of vision in one body and one spirit. Saint Leo the Great could say: ‘If faith is not one, then it is not faith.’”

“What is the secret of this unity? Faith is ‘one’, in the first place, because of the oneness of the God who is known and confessed…Faith is also one because it is directed to the one Lord, to the life of Jesus, to the concrete history which he shares with us…Finally, faith is one because it is shared by the whole Church, which is one body and one Spirit…By professing the same faith, we stand firm on the same rock, we are transformed by the same Spirit of love, we radiate one light and we have a single insight into reality.”

“Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole…Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion.”

“As a service to the unity of faith and its integral transmission, the Lord gave his Church the gift of apostolic succession.Through this means, the continuity of the Church’s memory is ensured and certain access can be had to the wellspring from which faith flows…For this reason, the magisterium always speaks in obedience to the prior word on which faith is based; it is reliable because of its trust in the word which it hears, preserves and expounds.”

This is at the heart of our understanding as Catholics of how the gift of faith is handed on to us in all its purity, wholeness and completeness for the sake of our unity and communion in the Body of Christ, the Church. The successors to the apostles (the bishops), in communion with each other and with the successor to St. Peter (the Pope), are given to the Church by Jesus as a gift for ensuring the continuity and unity of faith (cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, #25). This special gift or “charism” of the Holy Spirit enjoyed in the Church is what we mean whe we profess in the Creed at Mass that we believe in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” (emphasis added).

My dear brothers and sisters, this unity in the faith in absolutely essential to the unity of the Church, i.e. to our communion with one another in love. And our unity and communion in the Church is absolutely essential to the success of our efforts in the New Evangelization. I will give you all a “heads up.” This is a theme that you will hear from me as your shepherd again and again. We must live our lives of faith in the Church in the very spirit of those first disciples who were “of one heart and soul.” (Acts 4:32).

When we are fragmented and lacking in unity of faith, our witness to Jesus Christ is ineffective and sorely lacking in its true power — and the Devil rejoices. Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church at the Last Supper on the night before he suffered and died for us, so that the world might believe in him (John 17:20-23). As I said in my installation homily as your new archbishop, how will we ever convince others of our faith and the truth of the Gospel if we ourselves are not convinced?

On the other hand, if we are firmly united in faith, nothing can stop the incredible works that God will accomplish in and through us! So let us be one in faith, hope and love as we march forward in the work of evangelization in this new millennium. Let us profess the same faith, standing firmly on the same rock, transformed by the same Spirit of love, and radiating one light!